The case for a new federalism in Libya

libya-free_1835951cEntrenched divisions, stalled negotiations, and two rival governments threaten the very existence of the Libyan state. The absence of a capable central government creates a space for a violent struggle over key resources. A new Atlantic Council report argues that a fresh look at federalism may provide a stabilizing post-revolutionary form of governance.

In “The Case for a New Federalism in Libya,” Resident Senior Fellow Karim Mezran and Nonresident Fellow Mohamed Eljarh at the Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East examine how federalism can empower local authorities and take on the critical task of nation-building. The authors propose an alternative model to maintain a semblance of unity, with a decentralized executive branch and centralized legislative branch with limited legislative powers devolved to the regions. They argue that the set-up requires clear communication between the levels of government and helps eliminate the threat of partition by more effectively responding to the distinct segments of Libyan society. Further, they recommend a consultative constitution-drafting process and a civic responsibility initiative focused on self-governance within the rule of law. RTWT

Additional resources:

Interview with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi In Libya, Push for War Is Stronger Than Push for Peace Rewriting Libya’s Post-Revolution Narrative

Who’s who, what’s what in Libya

libya-free_1835951cThree and a half years since Libya’s popular uprising devolved into a civil war and culminated in a revolution with the ouster of the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s transition has been characterized by political upheaval and deteriorating security, writes Lara Talverdian, assistant director for research at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

Despite the first round of parliamentary elections held in June 2012 that showed signs of promise, parochial interests and power struggles have escalated and threatened to derail the country from its incremental, shaky path toward democracy.

Who are the warring factions?

The conflict in Libya is at the core a political struggle for control over the country’s key resources and state institutions. The divisions are many, including along local and tribal lines, but they manifest under the shadows of two major blocs that dominate headlines today: Operation Dignity, led by renegade former general Khalifa Haftar, who launched his campaign against Islamists back in May 2014; and Operation Libya Dawn and militias from Misrata that coalesced in response…..RTWT

A Libyan criminal court’s imposition of a five-year prison term on Al-Ummah newspaper editor Amara al-Khatabi for allegedly defaming public officials is a serious blow to free speech that should not be allowed to stand, Human Rights Watch said today.

The court convicted al-Khatabi for an article published in the November 21, 2012 edition of Al-Ummah. The article, “The Black List of the Judiciary,” named 87 judges and prosecutors, all members of the public judiciary, whom it accused of accepting bribes and other illicit earnings, and of loyalty to the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Al-Ummah said it had received the list from an unnamed source.

“Sending anyone, especially a newspaper editor, to prison for alleged defamation violates freedom of expression and can only have a chilling effect on the media,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “At a time when the rule of law in Libya is under huge threat from the actions of unaccountable armed groups, it is striking that prosecutors should give priority to a case like this.”

Libya’s failed transition to ‘Somalia on the Mediterranean’

libya winepIs post-Qadhafi Libya destined to become a “Somalia on the Mediterranean”? asks analyst Andrew Engel, outlining the causative factors in the country’s failed transition to democracy:

Libya’s post-revolutionary transition to democracy was not destined to fail. With the ninth largest oil reserves in the world, Libya was well positioned to develop along the lines of resource-rich Persian Gulf states with similarly small populations. But, despite a post-Qadhafi “explosion of civil society”, Libya has become a failed state in what could be a prolonged period of civil war. Fissures have emerged along ethnic, tribal, geographic, and ideological lines against the backdrop of an Islamist versus non-Islamist narrative.

In this thoroughly documented Washington Institute study, Engel examines the causative factors of this failure and offers prescriptive recommendations for creating a coordinated, unified political and security strategy to prepare for a worst-case scenario in Libya.


Libya’s civil war: polarized politics, fractured institutions

libya-free_1835951cMore than three years after the fall of strongman Muammar Qaddafi, Libya is in the midst of a bitter civil war rooted in a balance of weakness between the country’s political factions and armed groups, says Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

With a domestic landscape torn apart by competing claims to power and with interference from regional actors serving to entrench divides, restoring stability in Libya and building a unified security structure will be difficult if not impossible without broad-based political reconciliation, he writes in a new analysis.

Polarized Politics, Fractured Institutions

  • After Qaddafi, Libya’s security sector evolved into a hybrid arrangement marked by loose and imbalanced cooperation between locally organized, state-sponsored armed groups and national military and police.
  • The system broke down as political and security institutions became increasingly polarized along regional, communal, and ideological fault lines.
  • The country is now split between two warring camps: Operation Dignity, a coalition of eastern tribes, federalists, and disaffected military units; and Operation Dawn, an alliance of Islamist forces aligned with armed groups from Misrata. Each camp lays claim to governance and legitimacy, with its own parliament, army, and prime minister.
  • Regional backing of the two camps—with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates supporting Dignity and Qatar, Turkey, and Sudan backing Dawn—has deepened these divisions.
  • Outside efforts to train and equip Libya’s security institutions have failed because of this polarization. There is no effective command structure; trainees have reverted to regional loyalties or are on indefinite leave because there is no military structure for them to join.

Recommendations for Libya’s Leaders and Outside Supporters

  • Implement a ceasefire between Operations Dignity and Dawn and secure the withdrawal of forces taking part in those campaigns. The military units of these coalitions should move out of the major cities, and those that attacked civilians or civilian facilities should be disbanded.
  • Push for a transitional government that is inclusive of all factions. A face-saving power-sharing formula should encompass all politicians and include supporters of both Dignity and Dawn—if they renounce support for terrorist groups and attacks on civilian facilities.
  • Implement a regional pact against military interference in Libya’s affairs. Outside powers should stop equipping and funding armed groups and push their allies in Libya toward reconciliation. A September 2014 noninterference pact—including Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, and Turkey—is a promising start.
  • Support the development of a new Libyan security architecture, national army, and police force by harnessing local security initiatives. After a broad political pact is forged, the United States and its allies should focus on supporting a civilian-controlled defense architecture, municipality-based forces, and local disarmament and demobilization efforts.


Libya’s recovery short-lived as country risks falling apart

libya-free_1835951cA comeback by Libya’s oil industry may be short-lived as a confrontation between armed groups risks splitting the country three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Reuters reports:

Oil production has risen to 650,000 barrels per day (bpd), five times the level two months ago, in a rare success for the economy at a time when armed groups and two parliaments fight for control of the North African country. ….The recent increase comes after a group of federalist rebels campaigning for regional autonomy implemented a deal to reopen major eastern ports such as Es Sider.

But Libya expert Dirk Vandewalle said federalist rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran might close these ports again, after a rival armed faction from the western city of Misrata took control of the capital Tripoli.

This group has pushed to reinstate Libya’s old General National Congress (GNC), refusing to recognize the new House of Representatives. Part of the Misrata forces are backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. In response, the federalists might opt to exert their power over oil exports and the economy as a whole.

“There is always the possibility that the federalists may take this opportunity to reassert themselves,” said Vandewalle, author of the book “History of Modern Libya”.

Secret air strikes are “an astounding and unusual action,” said William Lawrence of the Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, adding that the US would not have approved of the move.

Libya expert Lawrence agrees that Security Council talks need to take place, saying, “Libya needs to be stabilized and hasn’t been able to do so on its own.” Instead, Lawrence tells DW, a UN mission is needed to help the country establish reliable political institutions and an inclusive government: “We need a political dialogue that includes the Islamists but doesn’t let them take the lead.”

In the campaign to overthrow Qaddafi, many militias currently fighting each other were comrades-in-arms. But many have since become enemies on the battlefield, RFE/RL reports.

“Over time, the different groups have associated themselves with different political currents, primarily nationalists and Islamists, and that automatically pits one against the other,” says George Joffe, a Libya expert and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, who estimates that around 350 different militias are currently operating in Libya.

“Each of them has represented an autonomous power center and has been very unwilling to share power with other groups. On top of all that, there is the question of the regional and tribal identities of the groups involved.”

Three important themes that have surfaced in the most recent episode of Islamist/Non-Islamist conflict concern the bifurcation of Libya, foreign intervention and the proxy war that Libya has become, Jason Pack of told Aljazeera’s Inside Story.

While much of the world’s attention has been focused on crises further east, the situation in Libya in the past few weeks has dissolved into the worst chaos since the 2011 war that ousted Moammar Gaddafi, the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor and Adam Taylor observe.

With reports that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are now getting involved, the conflict has turned into something of a proxy war for the Middle East’s big powers…..Put simply, the crisis could be framed as a contest between Islamist and Arab nationalists — a familiar trope throughout the Arab world.

But there are other factors at play, including regional rivalries, rump parliaments and outside agendas that don’t always align neatly, they add, providing a helpful guide to the key actors in the Libyan maelstrom….RTWT